Which is Shah Rukh Khan’s best film? The debate that continues to roil the actor’s fans has spilt over into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In the web series Ms. Marvel, lead character Kamala Khan asks Kamran, a new student at her school, if he watches Hindi films. “Only the greats like Baazigar”, Kamran replies. The 1993 thriller, starring Shah Rukh Khan as a vendetta seeker, trumps the romance Dilwale Dulaniya Le Jaayenge, Kamala argues. Actually, “There is no such thing as a bad Shah Rukh Khan movie,” she declares.
Ms. Marvel is the origin story of Kamala Khan, the first Muslim superhero to feature in her own comic. Pakistani-Canadian actor Imal Vellani brilliantly plays Kamala, a dorky teenager and Avengers fangirl who gains cosmic powers after wearing a bracelet that belonged to her grandmother.
Ms. Marvel has been created by Bisha K Ali. The directing team is led by Belgian-Moroccan filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and includes Meera Menon and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
Two episodes of the weekly show have been streamed on Disney+ Hotstar. Ms. Marvel has garneted attention for its representation of Pakistan-Americans and its non-stereotypical depiction of observant Muslims. The series has several Indian elements too.
One of them isn’t the heroine’s name, pronounced “Kamaal-aa” in the show. Kamala appears to be a female variant of “kamaal”, or excellent, rather than “Kamala” (as in Kamala Harris), one of the names of the goddess Lakshmi.
Among the prominent cast members are Indian actor Mohan Kapur and the New York-based Zenobia Shroff. They play Kamala’s strict but loving parents Yusuf and Muneeba. They feature in a hilarious scene in the first episode in which they present Kamala with a home-made Hulk costume.
Farhan Akhtar is also a part of the cast, as the character Hassan who guides Kamala on her newfound superpowers.
The musical score features several popular Pakistani songs, from Ahmed Rushdi’s Ko Ko Korina to Peechay Hutt by Hassan Raheem, Justin Bibis, and Talal Qureshi. The show’s tribute to sub-continental solidarity extends to the eclectic soundtrack.
Oh Nanba, composed by AR Rahman for the Tamil movie Lingaa (2014), features in the background when Kamala is attempting to take a driving test. Kamala tests her superpowers with her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) to the tune of Goddess by Krewella and NERVO, featuring Indian-American rapper Raja Kumari.
Canadian-Indian artist’s Tesher’s Jalebi Baby plays after a service at the local mosque. Indian singer-songwriter Ritviz’s Sage accompanies an encounter between Kamala and Kamran (Rishi Shah).
The bhangra track Husan, by Husan and Bhangra Knights, is the anthem for an campaign by Kamala’s scarf-wearing friend Naika (Yasmeen Fletcher) to get elected to the mosque’s governing council.
Director Meera Menon told Reuters that Ms. Marvel explores “the trials and tribulations of a South Asian immigrant family are just like any other families”. She added, “Hopefully this makes people realise that we all have more in common than we have differences.”
Lead actor Iman Vellani told Filmfare, “Culture and religion were never the main thing of her [Kamala]’s personality, it was just some part of her life. It’s like, this is the time I wake up. This is the time I go to school. This is the time I pray. This is the time I eat. Like, it’s just a set, a normal thing. And we didn’t wanna make the show about a Pakistani Muslim, it was about, this Avengers loving, fanfic writing dork, which just so happens to be a Pakistani Muslim.”